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South African government tries to unlock
Updated 10/27/2006 4:00 AM ET
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By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY
Size: 470,693 sq. miles (slightly less than
twice the size of Texas)
Population: 46.9 million
Government: Republic
Capital: Pretoria
GDP per capita: $5,099 (U.S. dollars)
Labor force: 15.2 million
Labor force by occupation: Agriculture, 30%;
industry, 25%; services, 45%
Unemployment rate: 26.6%
Population below poverty line: 50%
GDP (official exchange rate): $187.3 billion
Main exports: Gold, diamonds metals,
minerals, cars, machinery
Sources: World Bank; CIA World Factbook;
BBC; Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — More than a dozen years after
the demise of South Africa's apartheid regime, one out of every
four workers is officially unemployed. Including those who've given
up looking for work, the country's jobless rate is a staggering 40%.
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Fearing that such persistently high joblessness threatens the
stability of this multiracial African democracy, the government
wants to rev up its slow-growing economy. The goal is to achieve
an annual growth rate of 6% by 2014, double the average figure for
the first decade of democratic rule, by eradicating a handful of
"binding constraints." Priorities include improving substandard
education, accumulating foreign exchange reserves, and spending
$49 billion over three years on new roads, ports and power plants.
Such robust growth would represent a big improvement for South
Africa, but it would pale alongside the performance of fast-growing
developing countries such as India or Vietnam. South Africa's
ambitions also remain in the notable shadow of China, which over
the past two decades has averaged 9.5% annual growth while
lifting tens of millions of people from poverty.
STORY: AIDS could have bigger growth effect
"I went to China last year; I was completely blown away," says Alan
Hirsch, an adviser to President Thabo Mbeki and the architect of
South Africa's new economic plan. "It's a very different system than
ours. (But) when they decide to do something, they do it."
South Africa has made enormous strides since vanquishing racebased rule in 1994. It inherited from apartheid a pair of conjoined
economies: a small first-world oasis of about 4 million whites and a (2 of 6)10/27/2006 11:01:46 AM
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South African government tries to unlock economy -
The South African government wants to
sharply increase economic growth by
eliminating a handful of "binding constraints"
such as:
deeply poor and deprived backwater for 40 million blacks. Strict
race laws had prevented blacks from owning businesses, living
outside designated areas or even having a telephone.
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• Currency volatility. The rand has suffered
five shocks since 1994.
• Inadequate infrastructure. Roads, ports and
power generation that functioned well for an
apartheid economy of a few million whites are
inadequate for an economy that fully includes
the majority black population.
• Lack of skilled labor. Eighty percent of
schools are substandard, leaving blacks illprepared for the workforce.
• Need to boost tourism and outsourcing
industries. Relying on traditional mining won't
provide enough good jobs, meaning new
service-sector opportunities must be found.
• Inadequate small-business development.
A few big companies dominated the apartheidera economy.
• Need to upgrade government capacity.
Workers often have their first jobs in public
agencies. Top performers are siphoned off by
private companies.
"White people had a GDP like Canada. Black people had a GDP
like the Congo," says consultant Duma Gqubule.
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Since apartheid's negotiated end, a sizable black middle class has
emerged, acquiring new cars and patronizing upscale malls and
restaurants in northern Johannesburg's suburban enclave of
Sandton. In central Gauteng province, the heart of South Africa's
economy, monthly new car sales of about 21,000 this year are
almost double those of four years ago.
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No one wants to trade this young democracy, whatever its
inefficiencies, for Chinese authoritarianism. With a per-capita
income of more than $5,000, the average South African is
wealthier than the typical Chinese.
Yet South Africa's new formula for goosing the economy,
developed with the aid of Harvard University economists, only
illustrates the development challenge for countries that lack
China's strengths: a stable currency, low-cost export factories, rivers of foreign investment and a decisive, unified
On each count, South Africa has been unable to match the Chinese. Its currency, the rand, has traveled a roller
coaster through five separate shocks in 12 years. Apart from minerals, it has few exports of any consequence.
And while the government has avoided the free-spending trap and rampant corruption so common elsewhere in
Africa, it lacks a coherent strategy for capitalizing on globalization.
'Clearly, we're way behind'
As public impatience with chronic unemployment mounts, South Africa's inability to attract foreign investment
looms as a particular shortcoming. Funds from outside the country accounted for just 2.3% of capital formation in
2004 vs. 8% in China and 15.3% in Brazil. Even last year, when its figures improved sharply because of a large
corporate acquisition, South Africa ranked 103 out of 141 countries on its ability to attract foreign direct
investment, according to a United Nations scorecard.
"Clearly, we're way behind a lot of countries: certainly China, Brazil, the oil-exporting countries" in outside
investment, says Hirsch. "We need more of it."
Still, South Africa's relative stability and prosperity, measured against the rest of the African continent, has made it
a magnet for portfolio investment from abroad. All 94 U.S.-based emerging markets mutual funds have stakes in (3 of 6)10/27/2006 11:01:46 AM
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South African government tries to unlock economy -
South African companies, according to Todd Moss, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in
Washington, D.C. "If you're in emerging markets, you have to be in South Africa," Moss said.
Net foreign investment on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange reached an all-time high this summer. Among the
homegrown corporations with sizable foreign ownership is energy producer Sasol, one-third owned by foreigners,
according to CEO Patrick Davies.
As Asia's economies discovered during that region's 1997 financial crisis, however, portfolio investment can exit a
country as fast as it enters. Investment in tangible assets such as factories and machinery is less fickle; plus,
foreign executives involved in building plants often bring more than cash. Foreign direct investment (FDI) also
helps developing countries by transferring advanced technologies and first-world management skills.
"The importance of FDI is when it helps to promote a country's broader efficiency," says Stephen Gelb, executive
director of The Edge Institute, a non-profit economic policy center in Johannesburg.
Perceptions of political risk may explain some of South Africa's poor showing, which lags behind even the African
average. The country's ruling African National Congress surprised detractors by pursuing pro-market policies after
winning power in South Africa's maiden democratic election in 1994. Nelson Mandela, elected president that year,
inherited a budget deficit of more than 9% of GDP. Today, after years of shrewd management, public sector red
ink has shrunk to just 0.3% of the economy. In the United States, it's 3.2% of GDP.
Foreign observers were slow to acknowledge that the new rulers weren't succumbing to pressures for massive
redistribution of wealth from whites who had benefited from apartheid to blacks who had been locked out of
economic power. Yet today, there is renewed controversy over the pace of what the government calls "black
economic empowerment" and the transfer of land from white landowners to black would-be farmers.
As the ANC prepares to select next year a new party leader, who would be virtually certain to succeed Mbeki in
2009 as the country's president, powerful voices within the governing coalition are pushing for more focus on
spreading the wealth to the black masses. The trade union federation COSATU and the small Communist Party
are using the leadership battle to advocate greater social spending and faster progress on distributing economic
gains to blacks, who make up more than 80% of the country's 46.9 million people.
COSATU, which claims 2 million members, also is resisting calls for the relaxation of labor laws that business
leaders say unintentionally keep unemployment high. Employers say they are reluctant to hire new workers
because it can be difficult and time-consuming to fire those who don't perform. To avoid involvement in oftenprotracted labor arbitration proceedings, Murray & Roberts, a giant engineering and construction firm, has
subcontracted much of its hiring to labor brokers, says CEO Brian Bruce.
"You can't plan for an unemployment figure below 15% for a long time," says Bruce. "So we've just got to work out
what it means to be in a growing economic environment with such a high unemployment rate."
More than a decade (4 of 6)10/27/2006 11:01:46 AM
South African government tries to unlock economy -
It's been more than a decade since apartheid's historic collapse, more than a decade since Mandela completed
his remarkable journey from prison to presidency. Yet, South Africa continues to struggle daily with the tangible
legacy of generations of race-based rule. Vexing social problems, such as a recent surge in violent crime and the
toll taken by one of the world's worst AIDS epidemics, spill over into the economic realm. Life expectancy at birth,
about 47 years, is lower than in impoverished Bangladesh or chronically chaotic Haiti.
With blacks now full participants in South African life, it's apparent that the country has simply outgrown its
physical limits. As the miles of vehicles crawling between Johannesburg and Pretoria attest, the road network that
once adequately served a few million whites is no match for an ever-increasing number of black drivers.
The government has far-reaching plans to address its infrastructure shortcomings with new roads and a highspeed inter-city train, which are supposed to be ready in time for the 2010 soccer World Cup here. New roads.
Labor reform. Better-trained workers. It's a daunting to-do list and one that some doubt the government can
accomplish simultaneously.
"One of the dilemmas government faces is this is a country with really two economies: a first-world economy and a
developing-world economy," says Solomon Ngubane, an official in the government communications ministry. "The
question is: Where do you prioritize?"
Posted 10/27/2006 1:01 AM ET
Updated 10/27/2006 4:00 AM ET
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